While many organizations do a pretty good job figuring out which actions to take in response to customer contacts, relatively few challenge the need for those contacts nor build the robust capability to maintain and improve these actions over time. From research that my coauthor and I did to produce our third book The Frictionless Organization1, we collected and chronicled how organizations are striving to become more frictionless or, put another way, figure out where friction exists so that it can be removed in order to improve the customer experience.
I will share three examples from organizations that we have run across since the book’s publication in June 2022 after (re)introducing the book’s nine steps:
We open with the need to Understand why customers are contacting you for help and the need to Assign an owner to each reason (let’s say, “Why is my bill so high?” could be assigned to the head of billing if errors occurred or to marketing if the offers were confusing), and agreeing on how to Prioritize in a workshop with a cross-functional team each reason based on its perceived value or irritation to your customers and to your organization (for “Why is my bill so high?” the action would be to Eliminate the need).
Then we introduce how to address the five “Strategic Actions” that agrees to pursue for each reason, such as Eliminate the root causes or Pre-empt where you tell customers what they need to know before they find out about it; for example, delayed flights or shipments. Pre-empt also includes an organization’s internal options, such as alerts for pending appointments. Digitize is the home for self-service, typically for “How to?” questions that a chat bot, app, or IVR can address. Streamline is reserved for first-time issues that eventually the organization will need to Eliminate. Leverage, defined as a valuable conversation between the customer and a live agent, for example on such topics as “Tell me about your new release,” or “I want to cancel my account,” is an action both customers and organizations should want to have together.
We conclude with the ability to Learn and Re-design, so that you can implement a continuous improvement programs and prevent upstarts from taking over your business.
Let’s spend a little time with the Learn step with three examples that we have come across in the last several months: (1) Engaging frontline employees using the WOCAS tool; (2) Conducting listening sessions with extended parties; (3) Predicting customer churn.
#1 Engaging frontline employees
This has been an important approach for all organizations that have customer service representatives, retail employees, sales teams, and field service and implementation technicians. While contact centers collect and report customer contact reasons or intents (albeit to many reasons!), other frontline employees are rarely tapped to find out why customers are contacting the organization or what their needs are.
My LimeBridge partner Stephan Pucker and his team in Germany have commercialized a tool based on the question that I used to ask my customer service teams back at Amazon, “What are what are our customers saying?” or WOCAS2, for short. His WOCAS tool has been used by many customer service center operations and is beginning to pilot in retail shops to collect, score, and analyze customer contact reasons and the intensity of those reasons, including whether they are repeat contacts. One of his clients WOCAS to identify which contact reasons they should Eliminate or Digitize, as well as the other strategic actions. Using the “killer metric” CPX (contacts and costs per X where X is the driver such as number of orders shipped or accounts), they focused on Eliminate and reduced volumes and costs by 40% over 6 years. This has led to a renewed focus on the remaining reasons that merit more and better self-service in the Digitize action.
#2 Conducting listening sessions with extended parties
Listening sessions are another excellent way to learn what’s happening and to wrestle with upset customers or outsiders who do not understand the processes.
American Prairie is a Bozeman, Montana-based nonprofit organization dedicated to rewilding 3.2 million acres in East Central Montana, returning ranch lands to original habitat for the American Bison, Prairie dogs, Black-footed Ferrets, as well as a wide range of plants, insects, and other animals. American Prairie has already converted 455,000 acres in deeded and leased BLM land adjacent to or close to the 1.1 million acres of the Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge, well on the way towards its goal.
One of the challenges that American Prairie has faced over the years is from multigenerational cattle ranchers who see their livelihood threatened by this rewilding program. However, after conducting two listening sessions with 30 ranchers, government officials, and native tribes adjacent to them, American Prairie has begun to establish a rapport with these parties. The sessions centered around three key questions: “What can American Prairie do differently?”; “What keeps you up at night?”; and “What are you excited about?” According to Mark Cool, American Prairie’s VP & Chief Marketing Officer.
Among the positive outcomes from these listening sessions has been the ranchers’ realization that they can lease back land from American Prairie, prompting some of them to ask if younger ranchers might be able to take advantage of this program as well to help ensure that the next generation remains in the business and on the land. In addition, American Prairie is learning more about its neighbors and partners’ needs.
#3 Predicting customer churn
Predicting churn is usually a real challenge since there are so many possible data sources to consider and relatively little exit survey to confirm assumptions.
A large telecom provider analyzing cancelled contracts within 30, 60, or 90 days after customers interacted with them across every possible contact reason including the one mentioned earlier, “Why is my bill so high?” They were shocked to learn that compared to an average churn of, let’s say X percent per month, the range of churn by reason went from .1X to 7X — which meant that the higher churn percentage represented especially irritating issues for customers. This helped them to establish the right priority to conduct root cause analysis and improve the underlying problems for the high churn reasons, but also to reach out proactively and preemptively to all customers within the remaining contract for those offending issues. As a result, they have been able to reduce customer churn by 35%.
A US-based business services provider has collected hundreds of different data sources including customer contact details, social media post, NPS scores and open responses to those surveys, and many other data points. As a result, they have produced a predictive model broken down into five buckets ranging from very high probability to churn to very low probability to churn. After assessing actual results in this model and tuning it with Advanced Machine Learning (AML), they have seen an 85% accuracy rate on both ends of the spectrum representing approximately 35% of their customer base: 85% prediction of churn and 85% prediction of retention of customers. Their model is constantly learning and will soon surpass 60% of customers with this high level of accuracy. This too has led them to be able to intervene with customers before they might churn, learn from those customers the underlying problems, and increase retention.
These three and many other emerging examples of the Learn action3 will go a long way to help your organization to become frictionless.
1 Bill Price & David Jaffe’s The Frictionless Organization: Deliver Great Customer Experiences with Less Effort, Barrett-Kohler, June 2022.
2https://www.wocas.com/en/, accessed 9 February 2023
3 Such as reaching out to customers who do not contact you and do not respond to surveys. Turns out that many of them are not “happy campers” but, instead, are “silent sufferers” who are very likely to cancel their contract or take their business elsewhere. See more in The Frictionless Organization.